BITTER ICE by Barbara Kent Lawrence


A Memoir of Love, Food, and Obsession
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A disturbing account of family life with an anorexic, alcoholic, mentally ill husband, and an endurance test for the reader as well. Lawrence begins near the end of her ordeal. Isolated from extended family and friends (only her children still visit home on school holidays), she has caved in to the demands and illnesses of her husband and his pathological schedule: “Always very early, a run followed by a plunge into a bathtub filled with ice and water, a sauna, another plunge, work from eight or so until two or three, then another run, a plunge, a sauna, another plunge. . . . In bed by eight-thirty.” Husband Tom drinks plenty of wine but no water—he only chews ice and then spits water and saliva into towels and tissues left around the house, trying to avoid swallowing liquids and thus any dreaded “bloating.— Although physical abuse was never part of the equation in Lawrence’s married life, Tom “had beaten [her] down with relentless complaining and his desperate need for ritual.— For some 30 years, all recounted here, Lawrence—who earned advanced degrees, taught sociology, anthropology, and history, worked in real estate and construction firms, and raised two children essentially by herself—put up with all the revolting symptoms. She describes in sickening detail the sights and smells of living with someone whose body was essentially consuming itself. Lawrence seems remarkably tepid about the relationship from the start, and not just in retrospect. Why, oh why, did such an accomplished woman stay in such a marriage? She cites variously, and often convincingly, the mores of the era, religion, financial need, family expectations, and concerns for her children. Eventually Lawrence musters the wherewithal to reach out for help, and escapes, exhausted and overwhelmed. After wading through the gruesome detail here, even the most sympathetic readers may feel the same. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-688-16215-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999